Six weeks, five New York Times pieces on employment. What did they say?
The headline of the April 21st “Why ‘Find Your Passion’ Is Such Terrible Advice” didn’t match what Stephanie Lee wrote, which was that “we’re pretty bad at most things when we first try them.” I don’t agree with the theory she cited that “our interests are relatively fixed and unchanging” – my life has been a roaring counterexample – or that passions will be extinguished without immediate success. People with excessive expectations are generally those unenthusiastic anyway, and it is a perfectly valid choice to choose or accept a dull or unfulfilling work career for its value in supporting passionate activities elsewhere.
Ernie Tedeschi wrote a good summary of a positive trend in April 24th’s “Americans Are Seeing Highest Minimum Wage in History (Without Federal Help).” The largest problem with the likes of a national $15 level is that in many parts of the country people can do well on less, but that does not mean that those in Manhattan or Hawaii cannot decide on a higher base rate there. Per Tedeschi, 29 states and Washington, D.C, along with a “surge” in smaller governments, now mandate more than the national $7.25, and 89% of Americans paid the lowest legal amount are getting more. While I do not support minimum wages, as market conditions require that workers are paid what they will accept, Seattle lawmakers are far more justified in accommodating constituents in their own expensive city than imposing destructive hikes on small Texas towns.
“Behind the Numbers: How the Jobs Report Comes Together,” by Patricia Cohen on May 3rd, is a good reader on what goes into those usually first-Friday figures. Not everyone sees that only one hour of weekly payroll effort makes someone “employed,” knows that in order to be “unemployed” one must look for work within the previous four weeks “regardless of any government benefits received,” recognizes that the “labor force” comprises only those working and those unemployed as here, and understands the significance of the employment-population ratio and the labor force participation rate. Cohen mentions the two monthly data collection efforts feeding these numbers, the “Household Survey” and the “Establishment Survey” targeted to individuals and businesses respectively, and touches on seasonal adjustment which is used because times of the year differ.
May 27th’s “It’s 2059, and the Rich Kids Are Still Winning” is the first of a set of scenarios provided by “science fiction authors, futurists, philosophers and scientists” presented in opinion article form. Here an eminent figure in the first category, Ted Chiang, considered the limitations of DNA enhancement, that unless we have a pure meritocracy (exceedingly unlikely in 40 years) “genetic interventions” such as improving intelligence will not, as long as social and class factors are critically important, get us equality between those of different races, income, or anything else. That is a real point, and while such technology may push us further to the real nature of human beings, it will not level outcomes across all groups, and intelligence for scientists, as with great height for NBA centers, may continue to be necessary for success but not at all sufficient. Expect to see more from me on this series.
David Brooks, on the same date, followed up his tempting but irritating “weavers” column with “The Welfare State Is Broken. Here’s How to Fix It.” An improvement from advocating that people surrender their whole lives to American social-network efforts or conjure up opportunities to “make a difference” in one of the most rejecting fields there is, this time Brooks puts the onus on social service organizations to work together and focus on the related problems of individual families. I take issue with his characterization of poverty as longer lasting now than in the past – when I was growing up, poor meant you might not have nearly enough food for years on end – but his documented idea of “life teams,” handling everything from immediate financial and employment crises to teaching more constructive choices, is a good one, along with giving isolated people, especially older ones, the chance to join groups which are “part social club, part concierge service and part self-help cooperative.”
Next week, I will review the latest unemployment figures. They will show a large piece of what is happening with our economy, but, per the above, not all.